It wasn't as pretty as the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, but sometimes you just have to get the job done.
Freshman Chris Obekpa surpassed his own school record for blocks in one game by swatting 11 Fordham shot attempts. He blocked 8 shots in the team's season opening win over Detroit on November 13th.
"I've been waiting for this moment [to play at Madison Square Garden]," Obekpa mentioned. "This is why I stayed in New York."
Fordham came into the Holiday Festival just 1-7 on the season, with their lone win over the Ivy League's bottom feeder Penn. They were also missing their most explosive offensive threat in Chris Gaston.
St. John's and Fordham both came out sluggish early, picking up exactly where they left off in their meeting last December. Halfway through the first frame, the Johnnies had only made 19% of their field goal attempts.
A Travion Leonard lay-in capped a 10-2 run for Rams, which gave them a 21-14 lead with 6:45 to play in the first half. It was the Rams' largest lead.
The Red Storm rebounded better against San Francisco on Tuesday night, but their biggest liability was in the forefront again on Saturday at the Garden. Fordham controlled the Storm on the glass throughout the first half, out-rebounding the Johnnies 26-18. That margin ended up being 14 by the game's end, capped by 24 Fordham offensive boards.
St. John's slightly closed the gap before halftime, when they entered the locker room down 27-24.
But the Johnnies came out with more energy after the break. Slams from Chris Obekpa and JaKarr Sampson brought the Garden crowd to life when St. John's tied the score at 31 with 16:38 left.
St. John's finally took the lead with 14-minute mark after a D`Angelo Harrison baseline floater. But the inferior Rams kept fighting against their Big East opponent.
Since Tom Pecora has been head coach of the Rams, his teams have not been blessed with a plethora of talent. But, as St. John's has learned the hard way in those three seasons, Fordham doesn't give up and plays exceptionally hard against their inner-city rival.
"In the second half, their length bothered us," Pecora mentioned afterwards. "If you were to tell me that we would contain Harrison and hold them to 32% from the field, I would have said we'd have a good chance to win."
A Harrison three (his first in six attempts) extended the Johnnies' lead to six, and proved to be a turning point. A flurry of buckets and Obekpa blocks helped St. John's create some breathing room down the stretch.
Fordham scored only 20 points in the second half after having a three-point halftime lead. They shot just 28.4% for the game.
"Our match-up zone saved the day for us," Steve Lavin said. "Offensively, we were able to attack the sweet spots within their zone. Our newcomers had some jitters early, but I'm pleased with the way we closed out the game."
The Red Storm will take a week off for finals before making an appearance at Brooklyn's Barclays Center next Saturday afternoon against St. Francis (NY), the second game of the Brooklyn Hoops triple header. Fordham plays next Saturday against Princeton.